The Writer

Photograph of Thomas Merton by John Howard Griffin. Used with Permission of the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center.

Thomas Merton is one of the most beloved, prolific and widely read spiritual writers of the twentieth century.   His voluminous writings provide the spiritual seeker with first-hand knowledge of one man’s experience thus allowing the reader to journey on his own individual path with the help of a seasoned and experienced personal “mentor”.

As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams noted in his book, A Silent Action - Engagements with Thomas Merton, “Merton will not let me look at him for long: he will, finally, persuade me to look in the direction he is looking.“  It is Merton’s ability to summon his readers to their own personal journey, that resonates with so many.  His wise counsel, life experiences and theological ideas encourage spiritual seekers to pursue their own transformative experience. Questions of faith, God, paradox, contemplation, sacrifice and transformation are not easy concepts to grasp; Merton’s writings allow the reader to better understand these ideas.  Philosophical, theological and profound (yet readily accessible), his attraction as a writer rests in his ability to bring the reader along and beyond.

He entered the Novitiate at Gethsemani both as a monastic and writer.  Published in 1948 and later translated into over fifteen different languages, Merton’s ground-breaking autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, explores both his own personal conversion experience and calling to become a Trappist monk.  The range and unparalleled quantity of his writing formed an important part of his vocation and asceticism which continued until his death. His writings are his legacy.

A student of Merton can turn to a number of literary genres - books, journals, letters, articles and poetry.  His books and journals (compiled into seven volumes) reveal the core of Merton’s thinking.  Through these Merton becomes readily accessible, bearing his inmost thoughts, fears, anxieties and questions. We can follow, in a most personal way, his journey of self-discovery and learn how he confronts the questions and issues of his time.  Merton’s volumes of letters provide an insight into Merton himself and his relationship with a diverse group of, according to some estimates, more than 2000 correspondents over the course of 20 years.  His extensive collections of poetry allowed him to extend his message beyond the constraints of straightforward language inviting us to share, in his words, “the flowering of ordinary possibilities”.

In the decades that followed the publication of his autobiography, Merton navigated questions of faith and the search for meaning in dozens of books and hundreds of essays.  He provides tremendous insights into other great faith traditions, social issues, human rights, racial equality, peace efforts and inter-religious dialogue.  He was a man who was always journeying, searching, questioning - - always inviting his readers to join him in his (and our own) journey.  As friend and author Jim Forest reflected in his biography Living with Wisdom - A Life of Thomas Merton, “he attracts us because he is more than a gifted theologian and brilliant writer.  He is a brother in Christ who was - - and through his writings still is - - able to show us the way.”